How journals once facilitated and now hinder scientific progress.
Scientific journals, were instrumental in the ascent of a scientific culture during the modern era. Before their invention in the 17th century, there was, of course, communication of novel scientific findings. However, this largely took the form of:
visits between scholars, not particularly easy by steam and coach,
letters between scientists interested in the same topics,
ad hoc collections of writings in the form of manuals, lecture notes, or
more organized publication of monographs for mature and complete work.
Science during the pre-journal era was not widely disseminated. It was the privilege of the few who aggregated in university towns or around noble patrons. There was, indeed, a culture of distrust, the most famous episode of which was the infamous feud between Newton and Leibniz on the invention of calculus. And, indeed, even though there was already an emergent bourgeoisie with scientific interests, these were largely excluded from science by the mere fact that they were “disconnected” from the network of scientists.
Scientific journals solved many of these problems:
They introduced a centralized method for assigning credit to authors (via publication) and disseminating science to all interested parties (libraries, wealthy dilettantes, etc.)
They made science communication and progress significantly faster, since novel findings could be revealed in piecemeal fashion, and widely disseminated to anyone who might be interested in them and/or build upon them.
Scientific journals made the dissemination of science faster, cheaper, and wider.
I will argue that modern journals perform the exact opposite function: they cause the dissemination of science to be slower, more expensive, and more limited…
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